Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Capitalizing Clowns

By Allen Smalling

JUNE 19, 2000: 

Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks (Simon & Schuster), $25, 288 pages

"Bobo" is author David Brooks' acronym for a BOurgeois BOhemian, a synthesis of Reaganism and Woodstock--the folks he says are running the country today. Bobos are new money; the meritocracy of smart folk who have become rich as fast-track professionals, clever entrepreneurs, start-up capitalists or visionaries like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Some bobos are capitalistic hippies and some are mellowed-out business people.

America teems with the newly rich. The greatest concentrations of them are in "latte towns" like Madison, Wisconsin, or Northampton, Massachusetts, towns with "a Swedish-style government, German-style pedestrian malls, Victorian houses, Native American crafts, Italian coffee, Berkeley human-rights groups and Beverly Hills income levels."

Needless to say, it takes a huge income to be a true bobo. One poor wretch, a U. of C. professor, has to live on a "mere" household income of $180K, barely enough to cover private schools for her kids and a nanny. She suffers from what Brooks calls "status-income disequilibrium," or "SID," because her pay, while handsome, pales next to her similarly educated peers in the professions and business, with whom she has to socialize at symposia.

Brooks is at his best describing the furbelows and follies of bobo-dom. But "Bobos" in Paradise is really two books in one. Massive amounts of this text could have been computer cut-and-pasted from a less satiric work called something like "American Intellectual History: 1955-2000." Too often, the author describes the bobo predicament without really plumbing the related ethos. I didn't really need to hear how TV has co-opted intellectual life (that process began in the fifties with J. Fred Muggs and Steve-a-reeno, before most bobos were born, and it was dealt with much better by Neil Postman in the book "Nobrow," anyway).

One point to ponder is whether the term "bobo" will catch on. In 1945 no one had heard of a "highbrow," and in 1980 no one knew what a "yuppie" was. And there were plenty of columnists who said that we didn't need such words, yet they became coin of the realm anyway. Hopeless trendoids, take note and read this book before the inevitable paperback edition.


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